Design and testing of a 3D printed propulsion system for small satellites



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A cold gas propulsion system for small spacecraft orbital maneuvers was developed by the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Spacecraft Laboratory. The thruster will allow the Prox-1 spacecraft, developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology, to conduct small scale maneuvers in Earth orbit. 3D printing was used to create a geometrically complex design at a low cost, and allowed the thruster to make efficient use of the available volume. The system was equipped with an onboard microcontroller that provides precise timing for firings, and can collect data from various sensors to send to the flight computer. The testing of this thruster focused on determining the level of thrust available and the specific impulse of the system. The thrust was found to be considerably higher during short pulses (2 milliseconds) than during long pulses (10 milliseconds), from 50±16 mN to 35±2.4 mN, respectively. The specific impulse was found to be 55.4±17.7 seconds, which is sufficient to provide the Prox-1 thruster with a required velocity change of 15 m/s. A testing unit of the thruster was assembled and delivered in January of 2015, and the flight unit is scheduled for delivery in summer of 2015.